Friday, 27 March 2009

Back in the groove

Okay. I can't wait any longer.

It's been two days since my embarrassing lightbulb moment and I've got to scratch that itch.
I was going to leave it a week or so before launching into the lightbulb-inspired overhaul of young adult WIP Quackenbush, to allow time for the ideas to ferment.

But they won't let me. My fingers are twitchy. They need to burn up the keyboard. So here goes. No point resisting when the urge is on you. It's time for the home stretch. By the time I come up for air, the first draft will be completed.

I'm not sure how long this is going to take, because it's difficult to gauge how much work is required. I need to write a completely new intro, probably three thousand words or so, then take the original prologue and blend that seamlessly into the story. The new intro requires the introduction of two new characters, who will fix a gaping plot hole that perplexed me for what felt like eternity. Well, six months. Finally, there are two big scenes to tackle towards the end of the book which will tie the threads together and bring the climax, already drafted, into play.

I've opened a new word document, saved it as 'New Quackenbush' and that magical moment awaits - a blank screen, waiting for the words to start flowing. Or not.

To be honest, it's kinda scary. I've had so many delays in getting this finished, partly because of deadlines for other projects, that I've questioned whether or not I'd be better off scrapping it and starting afresh on a new project. Thankfully, the buzz is back and I'm in the groove.

But first, a cuppa. And a cookie. That should get me going. You can't rush these things.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Lightbulb Moment; Or, How to draw attention to oneself on the bus

It's been a good day, as the old geezer in the fire safety ads used to say after bringing the horses home from the show and before dozing off in his armchair and burning the house down.

These kind of days are few and far between, so you need to treasure them when they strike. It started with a pre-work doze on the coach in this morning. In that fantastically hazy realm between consciousness and sleep, I had what is commonly known in the trade as a lightbulb moment. This one didn't just light up, it exploded and had me wide awake, staring at the headrest in front of me, while the woman in the next seat glanced up from her paperback and gave me a look that made me check to see if I'd left the house naked.

I'm about 8,000 words or so away from finishing the first draft of Quackenbush, the young adult novel I've been dabbling with for the last couple of years. A few months ago, I hit a wall. A bloody big one. I'd opened the book with a prologue and when I posted it in Litopia for feedback last year, I kinda new what would be coming. The opening was set 35 years ago, with an action scene that introduced a young Quackenbush, before fastforwarding to present day and the start of the story proper.

The problem was, as integral as Quackenbush is to the book, and as cool a character as I think he is, he isn't the main protagonist. That is young Tom, and the way the book is structured at the moment, the reader doesn't meet Tom till page 10, which is not the greatest idea when trying to persuade an agent to, in the words of Mr Cox, move to the couch with his or her mug of coffee in one hand and your manuscript in the other.

Dump the prologue was the general consensus. But writers are a precious lot, fond of their babies. And, goddamit, I liked it. The events in the prologue are fundamental to how Quackenbush becomes the man he is, and crucial to the bond that develops between between him and Tom. I was loathe to lose it, even though I knew, deep down, that it had to go. I tried to focus on the rest of the manuscript, completing parts that I'd left hanging because extra research was needed, but it was no good. I had to sort this prologue issue out in my head.

So I've waited. Other projects have come to the fore, some have been completed, and others are still hanging around like an irate zombie who's been locked out of the mall while his mates are enjoying a feeding frenzy. And still I've waited. Until this morning.

The answer to the prologue dilemma is so bloody obvious I feel somewhat embarrassed for not having realised it earlier. A dynamic opening? Check. Straight in with Tom, strutting his stuff? Check. Managing to hold on to the events of the old prologue, in a roundabout way, and so give the reader the information they need about Quackenbush? Check.

It's a huge relief. And I'm chomping at the bit to get started on revising what I have of the draft, and then completing it. But I'm going to wait, at least a few days, to let it all stew. It's been rattling around in what passes as a brain for long enough, a little while longer won't harm it.

So, score one for Wednesday. The feelgood factor was improved when an email dropped in the inbox from my publisher for The Manx Giant. I fired the manuscript off to him about five weeks ago, which marked the first time he'd read a word of it. The days ticked by and I heard nothing. Holidays, I thought. Or maybe he's ill. Or so tied up on another project that he's had to forsake everything else. You can't help but start to fear the worst.

Today, I got his reply. He likes it. In fact, he's very pleased with it. He wants to meet up to discuss a few minor points, but he's happy. I'll be starting on the next draft this weekend, and the finishing line feels very close. Another big relief.

So that's it - two major scores in one day. I'm not naive enough to expect more fireworks soon. I'm only too aware that the literary gods have cocked up and they'll be arguing amongst themselves as to how some halfwit writer managed to get lucky twice within a matter of hours. They won't let that happen again soon.

Finally. a heartfelt thanks to all who attended the Olive Lamming Address to the Isle of Man Literary Society last week and had to endure my ramblings for the best part of an hour. I didn't mean to go on that long, honest. But, well, you did ask me to talk. And anyone who knows my father will be aware that us Quirks do like a good natter...

Friday, 13 March 2009

No room for shrinking violets

It's funny how the years change us.

I was never an outgoing kid - outside my close-knit group of friends, I was fairly shy, or at least never one who wanted to be the centre of attention. I skulked at the back when it was time to cast plays and tried to wriggle out of any attempt to include me in a presentation. The bottom line was, I didn't like performing in front of people. More precisely, I didn't like performing in front of people I didn't know.

After studying journalism at university, I went to Moldova for six months to teach English. I was 23 by this time and had several classes, ranging from six years old to sixteen, and if anyone needs short, sharp shock treatment for getting over nerves relating to standing up in front of people and fearing for your reputation, I'd recommend some teaching every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Several years in journalism helped things along; you can't be a journalist - scratch that, you can't be an effective journalist - if you're shy and reserved. All that said, it's only in the last four or five years that I've started to feel comfortable talking in front of groups.

While travelling for The Manx Connection, I was asked by most societies to give a talk on the book, about why I was writing it and what I'd learned on my globetrotting. The experience has stood me in good stead. The audiences ranged from seven or eight to thirty or forty. It got to the stage where, when my friend asked me to be best man a couple of years ago, I was actually looking forward to the speech, although I can't deny it wasn't nervewracking or that I hit the odd bum note.

If you harbour any aspirations of being a successful writer, giving talks and readings are part and parcel of the game in today's publishing industry. There's just no getting around it - if you can't buy into the whole marketing and promotion game, you'll find the odds stacked against you from the start.

Anyway, this Tuesday (March 17), I'm at it again. I've been invited by the Isle of Man Literary Society to give the annual Olive Lamming Address and will be attempting to keep the audience in the land of the living with a talk on The Manx Giant.

The book is being published later this year, and obviously the hope is that the talk will generate a bit of interest and help sales along. But it's also a chance to educate people about Arthur Caley, who I've grown very fond of in the last couple of years, and put some of the inaccuracies and myths about him to bed.

So, if you're in the Isle of Man and free on Tuesday evening, doors open at the Henry Bloom Noble Library in Douglas at 7.00pm, for a 7.30pm kick-off. No booking necessary, just turn up on the night.

I promise you, there'll be no tall tales.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Review Central

When I started blogging last summer, the intention was to include regular reviews of books (and the occasional movie). It's not happened, mainly because my reading has been irregular, to say the least, and I've not been to the cinema for, well, I don't remember the last time I got the popcorn in.

But that's all gonna change now.

The first book review should be up in a week or two. It will be Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor, which I'm immersed in right now. My first taste of Taylor's work was The American Boy, published in 2004. It was a very fine read, a sumptuous blending of crime, mystery and history revolving around a young boy called Edgar Allan Poe, and I'm not sure why I've waited five years before delving into his work again.

The next two on my list will be Daisychain, by GJ Moffat, a debut crime novel set in Glasgow, and Born Under a Million Shadows, by Andrea Busfield, another debut novel this time set in Afghanistan.

The idea is to review new books, be they new in paperback or hardback. But I might just throw in an oldie from time to time.


The Manx Giant is with the publisher, finally. When I sat down at the start of the year to edit and complete the second draft, the plan was to have it completed by the end of January, but every time I thought I was there, another element to Arthur Caley's story reared its head.

But it's done now, and while I move on to other projects, which I'll blog about soon, I'm left in that eerie limbo land waiting to hear what the publisher thinks. There will be another draft required, as there are still some research irons in the fire, but the draft I've sent through is pretty much the finished article. And so the writer's insecurities have surfaced, worrying that it will return through the post with CRAP scrawled across it in big red letters.

All you can do is change focus to keep your mind off it. So here we go. What to do next...?